Women account for 53% of the world’s population. However, 2/3 of the blind and visually impaired people in the world are women. While 80% of these women are in developing countries, women in developed countries like the US are still more likely to face vision loss than men.
Why are women more prone to eye disease than men?
Women are the caregivers in families, taking care of the health of family members over themselves. In addition, with many having jobs outside the home, they don’t feel they have the time to go to the doctor until something major happens, especially related to vision.
Women live longer than men are at greater risk for age-related eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts.
Women are more likely to develop several autoimmune diseases that can affect their eyes including, multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sj?gren’s syndrome.
75% of new breast cancer diagnosed each year is estrogen-sensitive. A common part of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer treatment includes the prescription of tamoxifen. More studies are being done, but cataracts due to tamoxifen have been identified in about 10% of the patients taking the drug.
What can women do to lessen their chances for eye disease?
Know your family history as genetics play and important role in your eye health, so know what eye diseases run in your family. Let your eye doctor know so he can look for early warning signs that can help prevent of lessen the conditions in you.
Get routine comprehensive, dilated eye exams starting at the age of 40, to create a baseline for your doctor to work from. After that you can go every 2-4 years until the age of 60. At 60+ have a compressive, dilated exam every two years if you are symptom-free and low risk.
Eat healthy and exercise. It is important to maintain a healthy weight to reduce the risk of some eye diseases. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is also important as they can contain carotenoids an some antioxidants that appear to help with vision retention. It should also be noted that in many studies, supplements did not show the same beneficial effects as whole foods.
Stop smoking! You not only increase your risk for cancer and heart disease, but smoking is the only thing besides advancing age that has been proven to be directly related to AMD.
Avoid ultraviolet light by wearing sunglasses (with wide-brimmed hats) and indoor glasses with UV protection. While everyone knows the sun is a source of UV light, so are electronic screens such as your TV, computer, tablet or smartphone. Prescription glasses and readers can have a clear UV coating put on them that will not distort your color vision. If you don’t need vision correction, there is eyewear with no correction that is coated to protect your eyes to avoid dry eye and retinal damage.
Use cosmetics and contacts safely. Always wash your hands first. Throw away old makeup and lens solutions. Do not share cosmetics or apply while driving. Make sure to clean your lenses thoroughly before putting them in your eyes.
Because women are relied upon to take care of the family, vision loss that can impact that responsibility can be devastating to the entire family. And later in life, when they may have outlived a spouse, the isolation and depression can destroy their quality of life as they try to cope on their own.
Reach out to women you know and remind them to take an active part in their own healthcare. Especially with regards to their vision, when women are at a higher risk of vision loss than men.
Susan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation